N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's Andrea Leslie releases rare fish
Recognizing its incredible diversity of stream life and years of efforts to conserve that diversity, the Little Tennessee River basin has been designated the nation’s first Native Fish Conservation Area. The designation took place at an October, 2015 ceremony at Abrams Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In 2008, Trout Unlimited, Federation of Fly Fishers, and the Fisheries Conservation Foundation came together to develop a new way to approach native fish conservation on a large scale, based on coordination at local, state, and federal levels while recognizing the importance of recreation and multiple economic river uses. The result of that meeting is the Native Fish Conservation Area designation. Native Fish Conservation Areas (NFCAs) are river basins with a focus on stream management for the conservation and restoration of native fish and other aquatic life, paired with compatible recreational and commercial uses, with the end goal of ensuring the long-term survival of native aquatic species. The North Carolina Wildlife Federation brought the concept to North Carolina and was instrumental in identifying the Little Tennessee River basin as a conservation area.
The Little Tennessee River basin stretches from North Georgia, across North Carolina, and into Tennessee, and includes the Little Tennessee, Tuckasegee, Oconaluftee, Nantahala, Tellico, and Cheoah Rivers, along with all their tributaries. It’s home to more than 100 species of fish, and 41 aquatic animals considered rare at the federal or state level, including a handful found nowhere else in the world such as the Citico darter, smoky madtom, and Little Tennessee crayfish.
The designation is supported by the Little Tennessee River Basin Native Fish Conservation Partnership, which includes American Rivers, Conservation Fisheries, Inc., Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, National Park Service, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Sierra Club - Tennessee Chapter, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Trout Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River.
Photo credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS